Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: High Anxiety and Panic Attacks.

Boo after her Sunday night bath

See the little girl in the foreground of this photograph? Looks like she’s fresh out of her Sunday-night bath with her wet hair, a white cotton towel draped over her tiny shoulders like Superman’s cape. In the background is her older brother, sitting at the kitchen table, and fully engaged in a game of cards with one of his friends. They don’t notice her or that Ma is taking their photograph. Looks like she’s warming herself by the ancient oil heater in the living room at 204. But she is not.

This little girl isn’t cold.

She is in a full-blown panic attack. Racked with anxiety. Tormented by a faceless nameless terrifying Boogeyman that pops up unexpectedly out-of-nowhere. Boo. What’s the “tell” in this photograph? Look closely and you’ll see her hand over her tummy. Look closely and you will see the fear in her dark eyes. Look closely and you will see the clenching of her distraught jaw.

In this photograph I’m nine or ten years old and just beginning a life-long battle with anxiety and panic attacks. My hand is over my tummy because my guts are churning and I feel like throwing up. I’m not cold like the photograph suggests. My teeth aren’t chattering because of the temperature in the room. I don’t shiver because I’ve caught a chill. I shiver and shake uncontrollably because my body, mind and emotions are under assault. And I don’t know why. I don’t understand any of it. I’m constantly overwhelmed with a gnawing feeling of dread, afraid of everything and nothing. My mind is on high alert, relentlessly watching and waiting for “it” to come back. I just want “it” to stop.

Eventually the immediate panic ceases. It always does. But the low-grade anxiety lingers.

It took years to fully understand this. When I was the little girl in this photograph I just suffered through it. Physical exhaustion eventually played a merciful hand. When I was a teenager I wanted to be carefree and happy like everyone else, and I continued to suffer through each attack, praying it would never happen again. Pleading with God to make it stop and asking, “why me?”

I confided in Ma of course. She understood what I was going through because over the years she too had suffered from “bad nerves.” Apparently these were the kind of nerves that required punishing. So Ma did so by dispensing Carter’s Little Liver Pills. They were the cure-all for everything back in the day. Ma found them helpful but they did nothing for me. As I got older, I started hiding the attacks from Ma because it was only making matters worse, for the both of us.

By the time my son was born, and I was in university, I had had enough. I had to figure this out, if not for my sake, then for his.

I became a student of my own physiology. I read and studied everything I could get my hands on about the nervous system, cognitive behavior, anxiety and panic disorders, psychology and spirituality, environmental factors, nutrition and physical fitness. Through this journey, I discovered that it was actually an amalgam of factors that were contributing to these panic attacks and prevailing anxiety. Bit by bit, and slowly over time, I unearthed a host of possible causes and triggers – everything from the very physical nature of the beast to the gut-wrenching emotional fabric of my life story. What I ate and when I ate it, being the daughter of an alcoholic, family shame and feelings of inferiority, extreme shyness, sensitivity and introversion, lack of confidence in social situations, hyper-creativity and an over-active imagination, intelligence and obsession with achievement, the need to be perfect, to be a good girl, to not make waves. I was tailor-made for this disorder.

But I was also tailor-made to overcome it. In addition to all that stuff, I’m also tough as nails, strong-willed, gritty, determined and optimistic. And above all else, I don’t feel sorry for myself. I stopped asking “why me” long ago. Now I ask myself, “why not me?” I’ve looked for the silver lining, the blessing in this experience and found it.

I’ve taken a holistic approach and I do the things I need to do to stay well – emotionally, physically and spiritually – by eating food that fuels my body and spirit, practicing yoga, going for long walks, reading and writing, doing work that has meaning, helping others, and most importantly, spending time with people I love and cherish. If not for panic attacks and anxiety, I doubt that I would experience life to the full depth of emotion and richness that I do today. Silver lining.

When I was in university, and in one of my deepest darkest periods of anxiety, I read a beautiful little book called Hope and Help for Your Nerves by Australian physician Dr. Claire Weekes. This book quite literally saved my life. I read it and re-read it until it was practically in shreds. It was full of practical intelligent advice and down-to-earth wisdom that I could actually do something with. I learned to desensitize my nervous system, to overcome the bewilderment that accompanies panic attacks, to change my internal conversation in order to stop the fear, and the fear of the fear, and to ultimately call its bluff.

And my biggest take-away, and what became my mantra for many years, even to this day – “shaky jelly legs will still get you there!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Be Real.

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Girl Warrior. Be real. Authentically you. Be the girl you are when you’re alone in your room. The girl who sings into the hairbrush. Or dances like a wild one. The girl who jumps on the bed with crazy abandon. And cries in the mirror so bad the mascara runs like black rivers down her cheeks. A girl who curses at the ceiling and vows to never speak again. The one who drops to her knees and prays that someone or something is listening.

Be the girl who not only hears the music but makes the music. The girl who doesn’t just march to the beat of her own drum but runs, leaps and flies. She’s the leader of the band. Not the groupie. Open the door to your room.

Let the rest of the world see this strong Girl Warrior.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: We are the Girl Warriors.

The Girl Warrior on top of the wall at Hillcrest Park.

I’m a warrior.  It’s taken me decades to accept this notion.  But I now know it to be true.  How could I have been otherwise?  I was raised by one of the best warriors God ever created.  Ma, my Warrior Queen.  The courageous one.  The small package containing a fierce and valiant spirit.  My inspiration. Teacher.  Leader.  The one I will follow into the dark.

I have raised two glorious Girl Warriors.  They too inspire me.  Every day and in every way.  They stand tall.  And walk with their own swagger.  Speak their truth. They challenge. Question. Test.  They are noble.  I have a grand daughter who is a young Girl Warrior.  Already fiercely independent.  A mind of her own.  An adventurer off to see the world.  No holding her back. Then there’s my bonus Girl Warrior.  My daughter-in-law. The one who captured my son’s attention and the hearts of his entire family. Another small package containing a wondrous, magical, spunky soul.

These five extraordinary Girl Warriors have taught me much over the years. They’ve helped me unearth my Girl Warrior.  To not be afraid of her magical powers. To celebrate. Honor. Appreciate. And applaud.

There’s no age limit to being a Girl Warrior.  She doesn’t look a particular way.  She comes in all ages, sizes, shapes, colors. She’s out there.  And inside every girl who enters the world.  She’s the face of hope at the bottom of Pandora’s Box.

The 10 Steps to Becoming a Girl Warrior:

My first Girl Warrior fearlessly staring down the camera.

1. Be real.  Authentically you.  Be the girl you are when you’re alone in your room.  The girl who sings into the hairbrush.  Or dances like a wild one.  The girl who jumps on the bed with crazy abandon.  And cries in the mirror so bad the mascara runs like black rivers down her cheeks.  A girl who curses at the ceiling and vows to never speak again. The one who drops to her knees and prays that someone or something is listening. Be the girl who not only hears the music but makes the music.  The girl who doesn’t just march to the beat of her own drum but runs, leaps and flies. She’s the leader of the band.  Not the groupie.  Open the door to your room. Let the rest of the world see this strong Girl Warrior.

2. Stare down your fears.  Look them straight in the eyes.  Laugh at them.  Call their bluff.  Walk right through them.  Don’t go around.  Don’t avoid.  Face them head-on. Take a deep breath.  Or a hundred  breaths.  Make your move.  And keep moving.  Shaky legs, a racing heart, lump in the throat or dry mouth are just the silly antics of fear.  Not real.  Feel the fear and do it anyway.  Find your brave heart and take it into battle. Give yourself a hug. Then go out and kick some ass.

My second Girl Warrior standing tall in her grad dress and shades.

3. Get a kick out of life.  Have fun.  Find things that amuse and delight you.  Not just once and awhile.  But every day.  Don’t put it off for the weekend. For vacation. Or another time.  Hoot and holler right now.  Find your zippity doo dah.  Make a joyful sound. Cause a ruckus.  Bang on your drum all day.  Laugh your guts out.  Until you cry.  Embrace happiness.  Enjoy the people you’re with right this very second.  Let them see your playful radiant blithe heart.

4. Open your heart wide and let in the love.  Go where your heart leads you. And don’t run from its softness. Let it be tender.  Kind. Compassionate.  Gentle.  Extend your hand to another and grab on tight.  Then let go.  There in lies your strength.  Love again.  Then again.  And again.  You don’t have to get it right. Or perfect.  Just let love come naturally.  Accept that sometimes it will hurt.  Don’t let this frighten you. Don’t push it away.  Or turn your back.  Don’t give up on it. Most importantly, learn to recognize love when it comes your way.  It doesn’t always come gift wrapped. Your power to love is your secret weapon.

The young Girl Warrior has dressed for the part.

5. Find your tribe. Your pack.  Your posse. Your band of sisters and brothers.  Surround yourself with people you trust, respect and enjoy.  You don’t have to always agree. You don’t even have to always get along.  But these are the faithful ones. Loyal. Steadfast. And true.  The ones who will be there for you.  With you. By your side.  The ones who have your back.  And will hold your hair back while you barf.

6. Follow your passions.  Therein lies your love affair with life. Be curious.  Channel your inner Curious George.  Do things that you love to do.  Be enthusiastic. Keen. Overflowing with zeal, zest and gusto.  Embrace new ideas and ways of doing the things you already know. Be creative.  Imaginative. Take the magical mystery tour.  Expand. Grow. Cultivate. Hone. Set your heart on fire.  Grab a handful.  Then another.  And another.  Gush about the things you love. Take risks. Embrace the failures on the way to your successes.  Learn and get on with it.  Dive in with your whole heart.

The bonus Girl Warrior sits on top of the world.

7. Be generous. In every way.  With everything and everybody.  Don’t be stingy.  Don’t withhold. Don’t hang onto things.  Never covet. Give of what you have.  What you know.  Give a little.  Or give a lot.  But give.  And forgive.  For that is the ultimate gift.  To others.  To yourself.  Give it all away without hesitation.  And watch it all come back in miraculous ways.  Go out there and be someone’s blessing. You will be blessed in return.  It’s the way of the Girl Warrior.

8. Be honest. Speak up.  Speak out. Speak your truth. Express yourself.  Whatever that means to you.  However that looks.  Tell it like it is.  Or how you wish it was.  Be bold.  Audacious in your speech. Intrepid with your message. But don’t use your words to slaughter.  Use your words to empower.  Elucidate.  Illuminate. Exalt. Demystify. Take ownership of what comes out of your mouth. Make it good.

The original Girl Warrior. Our queen in her floppy hat and hot pink pants.

9. Defend and stand up for something. That’s what true Girl Warriors do.  Don’t stand on the sidelines.  Believe in something.  If you haven’t got a cause.  Find one. The mission is personal. And it’s critical.  Don’t worry if you’re the only one fighting for it.  That’s not the point. If it’s meaningful to you, then get behind it.  Breathe life into it in a way only you can.  While you’re standing up for something, avoid putting someone else down. No matter how much you disagree. Cheap shots are easy and beneath you.  Defend their right to have their own beliefs.  Don’t kick or trample on the weak. Reach out and extend a helping hand. Invite them to stand with you.

10. Dress the part. Every Girl Warrior should have a costume.  Something that is uniquely her.  At first blush, it might look just like someone else’s.  Don’t be fooled.  No two Girl Warriors wear their costumes in the same way. This is your personal power suit.  Put it on.  Strut your stuff.  Don’t apologize for the cut, color or condition.  Walk.  Run.  Skip to my Lou.  Black leather jacket.  Frilly blouse.  Skinny jeans.  Mini skirt.  Floor length gown.  A sundress blooming with flowers.  Floppy hat.  Or fascinator.  A pinstriped suit. Kick-ass boots. Red stiletto shoes. It’s not about fashion. It’s about expression. Wearing the inside out.  It’s about attitude. Character. Originality. You are a rare bird Girl Warrior.  Know this.  So put on your cape.  And fly.